18th Century Bodice Pattern

I’m really sorry this post is so late guys, exams were a lot more time consuming than I predicted. But I finished my last exam on Monday and so I now have a lot of free time! This can only mean more sewing and therefore (hopefully) more frequent posts. This post will outline the process I used to make the basic bodice pattern for all three Schuyler Sisters dresses, along with specific design notes on how I adapted this pattern to each girls dress. I’m going to apologize in advance that it’s so long and wordy.

I would advise you begin this process by collecting as many reference images from as many different angles as you can. There are videos of the Schuyler sisters in action so watch these a few times so you can get an idea particularly of the neck line and bottom curve. Then get all these images into a form you can easily see, whether that’s printing them off and pining them to a cork board or simply having lots of tabs open on your computer. I have a board on my pinterest which can act as a starting point.

NB: As you can see from the above picture the Schuyler sisters dresses don’t have side seams (except Eliza and that’s probably due to her asymmetric front). They do however appear to have separate curved back panels, which you could choose to include if you wish.   Also note that in the below picture you can see the shoulder seam of Angelica’s dress is actually 2 or so inches behind the normal shoulder seam. This is historically accurate and I would encourage doing so in your drafts because it allows the lace to carry into the back. 

I like draping my bodice patterns but, if you don’t feel comfortable making your pattern in this way you could use the Elizabethan corset pattern generator and simply adapt the pattern. This would probably involve making more mock ups to make sure you got the neckline and arm hole right as you’d have to add these to the pattern.

I began draping by taking a random piece of scrap fabric. You need to pin the straight grain of your fabric down the center front of your stays- If you don’t have a mannequin you can use a pillow or a model (or yourself which is how I started)- but be careful to put pins in the stays not the person! You’re aiming to make something fairly basic- just aim to get the neckline and arm holes right, don’t worry about the shape of the point at this stage.

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I began drafting on myself to get the shape of my armhole and neckline because that’s hard to do on the mannequin.

Once you’ve pinned your fabric to the center line you need to pull the fabric taught until it meets the side seam (or back if you’re aiming for a one piece pattern). Keep going until there are no bubbles, pin around the arm hole and necklines in a similar way. This post is explaining the method for a 16th century bodice (whose side seam is often in the back, not the side) and is useful for explaining this method. Once you’ve done this your model should look as below (left), simply cut these pieces along the seams and remove them from the mannequin.

Then lay them on paper- you can use pattern drafting paper, freezer paper, brown paper or plain A3 paper. Draw round your pieces and ADD SEAM ALLOWANCE (I always forget).

Now for the sleeves. The sleeves for all three bodices are identical except for their length. Peggy’s are elbow length, Eliza 3/4 and Angelica wrist length. Drafting sleeves to fit a pattern is an annoying thing to do and something I hate, but I persevered. I used this tutorial to help me draft the sleeve patterns.

Once you have your bodice pattern including sleeves you need to make a mock up- use an old dress, scraps, a bed sheet or any other cheap fabric you wouldn’t mind sending to the bin eventually. Sew with the seams facing outwards so you can adjust them easily. I would advise putting a zipper in the front or back seam for easy access and so you get a true idea of what the bodice is like closed (pinning it closed puts irregular tension on the fabric). Then try the bodice on and fit it.

My first mock up had a lot of issues. Firstly, the sleeves had too much fabric (red circle, left) at the top creating a ‘puff’. Secondly the neckline was too high and not the right shape so I drew the new shape on the mock up and transferred it to my pattern. Thirdly, the bodice was huge around the waist- I’m talking 4 inches too much fabric either side here! This was taken out predominantly along the front and back seams because they weren’t creating the right ‘curve’ (right picture, black lines). Fourthly the arm holes weren’t deep enough which caused them too be very tight and also limited my movement. I drew new arm holes and transferred them to the pattern. Finally because of moving the neckline and front seam around I had to redraw the bottom line.

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I’ve overlayed the pattern made from my first mock up and the pattern from my draping. The red lines show what the pattern for my second mock up (and ultimately my final pattern) looked like.

My second mock up, which I made from some taffeta curtains I had lying around, showed that I’d eliminated most of those issues, but now had a few more to contend with.

The puff sleeves were still there, so I resigned myself to drafting yet another sleeve pattern.Because I’d taken in the front it was now too tight, causing it to wrinkle and pull the point up. The boning should sort out most of the wrinkle problems, but I added 1 cm to the pattern anyway. Another problem that the boning should fix is the ridge of the top of the stays. The final problem was that the front was way too short- only really acceptable for Peggy not Eliza or Angelica, so rather than trying to solve this problem I decided to remove the point from my basic bodice pattern. This makes it much easier for me to explain further down how I altered this pattern for each sister.

The changes that did work were the armholes and neckline- both are now the perfect shape.

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The sleeves now fit properly, plus I tried out some lace to see how it looked. The neckline needs lowering a half inch, but apart from that it fits really well. The bottom is the shape I’ve decided on for Peggy- it’s not pointy enough for Eliza or Angelica

So I did a third mock up! (I only normally have to do two) I decided to try the button placket on this one just to see how it would sit/how much seam allowance I would need to add.

So after my third mock up I was happy with the pattern changes, and so I was left with my final generic pattern. Below I have written specific guidance as to the design of each sisters bodice, because they’re all subtly different.

Angelica

This was by far the easiest bodice to adapt from a standard pattern. Angelica has a small section of gathered fabric (probably organza) in the front of her bodice in her brown dress (left). I’m making the dress from ‘Satisfied’ (right) but it looks like she has the same sort of detailing under the over robe (middle). The point at the front of Angelica’s bodice is very V shaped, so I made sure to make it less curvy than some of the other bodices.

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Angelica’s pattern is insanely simple!

Peggy

Peggy has a line of buttons down the front which seem to open the dress, however given that her bodice can be seen to lace up in the back I’m presuming these aren’t functional. I kept the standard 1 cm allowance on the left side and used 1″ seam allowance on the right hand side. The point at the front of Peggy’s dress is very soft and curved so I changed the pattern to reflect this, I made the point 4″ long.

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Please ignore the fact that the extra seam allowance doesn’t carry on to the top, this is because this is a removable piece and so I just move it when I’m drawing round the pieces. Also, I forgot to mention I had to cut and spread the back to allow the back to sit right with the bum roll.
Peggy also has 5 tabs evenly spaced around the sides and back of her bodice. To decide on the width of these I simply measured from where I felt the tabs should start and end along the bottom curve, then divided this by 5 (making each tab 6.4 cm wide). Since they look pretty square I cut out a few test tabs- both longer and shorter than they were wide and tried them over my petticoat to see which was best.

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from left to right- longer, equal and shorter length than width. I think I’ll go for the equal one but it depends on your skirt supports- I couldn’t use a longer tab because my bum roll isn’t big enough (in fact this has shown me that I need to make an extra pouf to go over it for Peggy)

Once I decided this I marked where each tab would have to be attached to make sewing the bodice easier. I’d finished with this pattern.

Eliza

This was by far the most complex, I found it really difficult to decide where the diagonal cut should be. In some layouts the central panel looked too narrow and in other drafts it was too big and it didn’t help that the image in my head was quite different to the actual dress. So instead I started by deciding on how I wanted the bottom to be shaped, before drafting the diagonal with a mock up as demonstrated below.

You can fix a piece of wool or string to two points to get an idea of what it would look like on the body. What you then need to do is cut along this line so you get two different sized parts of the bodice. Then you need to make a replica of your standard bodice pattern (with Eliza’s point) and attach them at the center front. Place your cut mock up over the pattern so you can mark the diagonal line. (I hope that makes sense, I don’t have any pictures of this part)

This diagonal line is a false button placket just like on Peggy’s dress, I therefore had 1cm of seam allowance on the smaller part of the pattern and 1″ on the larger bit.

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The smaller pattern pieces is just the front half- because the backs are identical and I couldn’t be bothered to replicate the back part of the pattern as well.

 

So that’s how to make the pattern for each of the sisters bodice. I’m writing individual how to make posts for each sister as I finish making their bodice, Angelica’s should be up next week (there may be a skirt post in between now and then). Thanks for reading!

 

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